Earth sciences professor Geoffrey Seltzer of the College of Arts and Sciences and Donald T. Rodbell, a colleague from Union College in Schenectady, New York, have discovered what may be the first continuous record of El Nino climatic events dating back more than 5,000 years. The record was hidden in mud sediments the pair obtained five years ago from a lake in southern Ecuador.
The finding, published in Science magazine,has generated excitement worldwide among scientists trying to unlock the mysteries surrounding the El Nino phenomenon. "By understanding when modern El Nino events began, perhaps we can better understand what climate conditions might trigger changes in El Nino in the future," says Seltzer, who has done research in South America since 1985.
As director of the PEP I (Pole-Equator-Pole) initiative, Seltzer heads an international committee of scientists looking at climate changes along the North and South American longitudinal transect. Two other global initiativesPEP II and PEP IIIare focusing on climate changes along the Australian-Asian and African-European transects. "What we are trying to do is provide the larger scientific community and policy makers with a historical perspective on global climate changes," Seltzer says.
The new finding represents a major contribution to PEP I efforts. The 30-foot core sample taken from Lake Pallcacocha contains sediment layers dating back 15,000 years. Beginning about 5,000 years ago, the scientists observed the presence of light-colored sediment bands nearly every 10 years. In a recent analysis, Union College graduate student Jeremy Newman, who co-authored the Science article, found to the surprise of everyone involved in the project that the light bands corresponded to known El Nino occurrences during the past 200 years.
With a grant from the National Science Foundation, Seltzer and Rodbell plan to gather core samples from other lakes in the region and look for similar sediment bands. "It's a provocative study," Seltzer says. "We happened to complete our analysis last year at the beginning of what turned out to be a large El Nino event."
Two years ago on a volcano-climbing trip to Costa Rica, Matthew Lachniet, an earth sciences doctoral student in the College of Arts and Sciences, had an idea for a research proposal that earned him a 1998-99 Fulbright Scholarship.
Lachniet, who is using the Fulbright to study glacial activity in the Costa Rican highlands that occurred 10,000 years ago, is one of four SU students awarded Fulbright Scholarships in 1998-99. The other threeLisa Knight, Jason Pribilsky, and Ginger Wiegandare doctoral students in the anthropology department of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. "We've had three Fulbrights before, but never in the same department," says anthropology professor Susan Wadley, SU's Fulbright Program advisor. "These awards reflect the excellence of the graduate students we're getting in the anthropology department."
Knight is studying the roles and experiences of women of the Baul sect in India; Wiegand is exploring how performers in several drum/dance troupes disseminate Ghanaian culture through song and dance; and Pribilsky is investigating AIDS in the Ecuadorian Andes and its connection to rural migration patterns.
English professor Harvey Teres of the College of Arts and Sciences also landed a Fulbright. He is teaching American literature and literary theory to Chinese students at the Beijing Foreign Studies Institute in Beijing, China, this spring. "The primary connection Chinese people have to American culture is through the popular media," Teres says. "But American literature imparts deeper cultural perspectives, which I hope to bring to the classroom."
The five are among 2,000 U.S. scholars and students who are traveling abroad through the Fulbright Program this academic year. SU is also host to 25 international Fulbright Scholars.
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